Beginnings Early Education in BC

Bishop Modeste Demers

                Bishop Demers was born on October 11, 1809 in Saint Nicholas-de-Levis and was ordained as a Roman Catholic Priest on February 7, 1836 becoming Curate at Trois-Pistoles.  However, he felt a need to spread his religion to the people of the Western Colonies, British Columbia or the Red River Valley.  In the summer of 1838, along with another priest, Father Francis Norbert Blanchet, Demers left for the West by the overland route which was not easy and required many modes of transportation.  The priests were able to enjoy a small celebratory mass on October 10 when they reached the summit of the Rocky Mountains amid the glaciers.[1] 

                The West was made into an Apostolic Vicarite and Father Demers became the Pastor in Oregon City as Portland was appointed as the See.  Eventually he rose to the role of Bishop when the area was changed to an Ecclesiastical Province and chose the area of Victoria as the place to start.  Unlike most Bishops, Demers did not have other priests to rely on or even a large congregation.  The fort of Victoria was made up of First Nations and a few white people who worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company.  Needing support from the Church, Bishop Demers would travel to places in Europe and Quebec to promote his plan for Victoria.  One trip to Quebec in 1857 led him to the Sisters of St Ann. 

                Bishop Demers was concerned about the state of education in Victoria and wanted the convent to set up a school in Victoria.  One of the first Orders he approached in Quebec was the Sisters of Saint Ann.  Among the 38 Sisters every one of them volunteered for the mission after hearing about the poor children among the wilderness that the Bishop described to them.  Demers led the four women chosen back to Victoria arriving in 1858.  Expecting to find a small outpost, instead they found a town doubled in population thanks to the Fraser Gold Rush.  Bishop Demers would continue to have a close relationship with the Sisters even at one point having his house being cared for and his food prepared by the Sisters of St Ann.  He died on July 21, 1871 in Victoria.[2]

[1] Sister Marie-Jean-de-Pathmos, S.S.A., A Histoy of the Sisters of Saint Anne Volume One 1850-1900 (New York: Vantage Press, 1961), 133-134.

[2] Sister Mary Margaret Down, S.S.A., Ph.D., A Century of Service 1858-1958 (Victoria: Moriss Printing Company, 1966), 70.